Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron in New Cross

I was talking to Moonbow John last week, as he will forever be known to me despite it now being several years since he decided to move on from running cafes in Brockley, New Cross & Catford. He mentioned to me that Gil Scott-Heron, legendary American proto-rapper, had once performed at the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross, but acknowledged that he hadn't actually been there himself. I replied that I'd heard that story too, but neither of us were entirely sure whether it had really happened or if it was one of those urban legends compounded of rumour and wishful thinking. In fact I wondered whether I might have actually told the story to him some years ago as speculation, only for him to repeat it to me as fact - such are the feedback loops that myths are made of.

However the story has some independent verification, if only in the comments to posts on various blogs. Brockley Central mentioned the Goldsmiths Tavern in 2008, prompting a couple of relevant comments. 'Mezzer' said: 'One of the most memorable gigs of my life was here: Gil Scott Heron about 6 or 7 years ago. Apparently, he liked the inner city vibes of New Cross and agreed to come down and do a show. It wasn't until he walked on stage that I even believed that it was going to happen. Magical'. Likewise 'neanderthal d' said... I .The Gil Scott-Heron gig was in late '97 on a Sunday night. It couldn't be advertised locally because the Goldsmiths' Tavern didn't have a Music Licence on a Sunday night - hence the hush-hush nature of the gig. If i remember correctly, somebody knew the Promoter or Tour Manager for that particular tour and the gig was a kind of favour or something. Sadly, i missed the gig because i was languishing pennilessly in Plumstead at the time'.

At The Daily (Maybe), Bob from Brockley recalled 'One of the best, perhaps the very best, live concert of my life was seeing him in the Goldsmiths Tavern on New Cross Road about a decade ago' while johnhunt at Pinkfishmedia stated: 'i've seen gil a few times. the most memorable of which was at the goldsmiths tavern in new cross in 95? or close - arranged because one of his managers used to drink in there. the pub had a room out back for max 100 and quite decent sound. my friend and I arrived early , had a couple of beers while gil as, i rememeber it, stood behind the bar smoking a spliff. as gigs go it put a smile on my face for weeks afterwards'.

So we have at least three people who were present, one of whom is a friend of mine, enough to confirm that it actually happened. Hard to believe perhaps that this globally-appreciated performer popped into a pub in New Cross, but no more so than that the Chicago-born musician is the son of the first black footballer to play for Glasgow Celtic (and that's true too). Anybody remember anymore, or indeed have any good GMT memories, please comment.

Gil Scott-Heron has been responsible for some awesome tracks over the years including The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Whitey on the Moon, Johannesberg, Winter in America and The Bottle.

Gill Scott-Heron is playing at the Festival Hall on the South Bank next month

Monday, March 29, 2010

South East of the Thames Border Infection Mix

Last week I took part in Border Infection, an event at Goldsmiths in New Cross themed around borders, migration and creativity. My contribution was to lead a radical history walk/talk around New Cross and Deptford. In the evening there was a party at the Amersham Arms, with the highlight a great DJ set by Ges-E and Osmani Soundz from Nasha records (Eastern-flavoured bassism). I also played a set, in effect a soundtrack after the fact to the walk, featuring music linked to the area - specifically stuff that could be placed on a loose South London bass continuum from 70s reggae to current UK funky. Here's my selection:

South East of the Thames Border Infection Mix - Neil Transpontine (download full mix here)

1. TT Ross - Imagine: released on Dennis Harris's Lovers Rock in 1978, the label that named a whole genre of soulful reggae. The label was based in Harris's studio at 13 Upper Brockley Road, SE4.

2. Johnny Osbourne -13 Dead: this and the next four tracks all relate to the 1981 New Cross Fire, when 13 young black people died in a house fire at 439 New Cross Road.

3. Sir Collins and His Mind Sweepers - New Cross Fire: Sir Collins - or Charlie Collins -was involved in the famous Four Aces club in Dalston. His son was DJing at the New Cross party and died in the fire. I have added a sample from a BBC news report in January 1981.

4. Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali - New Cross Fire (1981): I have added a sample of Sybil Phoenix discussing racism in late 1970s and the setting up of the Moonshot Club in New Cross, youth club for young black people and scene of mass meetings in the aftermath of the fire.

5. Linton Kwesi Johnson -New Craas Massahkah.

6. Benjamin Zephaniah - 13 Dead and Nothing Said.

7. Mad Professor & Jah Shaka - Gautrey Road Style. The Mad Professor had his Ariwa studio at 42 Gautrey Road, SE15 in the 1980s. Jah Shaka was based in New Cross.

8. Brown Sugar - I'm in love with a Dreadlocks - another release on the Lovers Rock label from 1977, written by John Kpiaye, guitarist at Dennis Harris's studio, with Dennis Bovell as sound engineer. Brown Sugar included singers Kofi (later a solo artist) and Caron Wheeler (later of Soul II Soul).

9. Brinsley Forde - Can't tek no more of that - the sound of the closing scene of the great reggae sound system film Babylon, shot around Deptford and Brixton in 1979.

10. Dizzee Rascal - Can't tek no more - he's from East rather than South East London, even if his career took off via a Deptford studio, but since this track from last year's Tongue'n'Cheek album samples Babylon it's on the list.

11. Southside Allstars - Southside Riddim - this and the following two rap tracks offer a gritty realist take on South East London life, doing their bit to undermine gentrification by reminding everybody that the area has gangs and violence as well as estate agents!

12. Tinie Tempah - South East of the Thames

13. Blak Twang - Dettwork South East

14. Controlled Weirdness vs. Excentral Tempest -South London Bass/South East: my mix combining South London Bass by DJ Controlled Weirdness with South East, a rap by Excentral Tempest (now Kate Tempest).

15. Kyla - Do you Mind: a bit of an obvious funky anthem I know, this comes via Digital Holdings, the New Cross studio used by producers Crazy Cousinz. There's a continuity between Lovers Rock and UK Funky I think, expressing the soulful current of London bass culture as the flipside to the dread, beat an' blood current.

16. Leslee Lyrix - a short extract from the 1983 Ghettotone vs. Saxon sound system clash at Lewisham Boys Club, featuring Leslee Lyrix as Ghettotone MC. In his other guise as Dr William (Les) Henry he has published an essential book about sound system culture, What the Deejay Said: A Critique from the Street. Overlaid on this are samples from a short film, Voice for the Voiceless, made by some Goldsmiths students in 2008, with Les Henry and Les Back discussing the significance of sound systems and specifically nights in the Crypt at St Pauls in Deptford. I had a small role in this film, mainly supplying them with the soundtrack after a drink with the film makers in the New Cross Inn.

Voice for the Voiceless Uploaded by nickstreet83.

[the sound quality on the mix is variable, some of it ripped from vinyl and cassette and then thrown together on Audacity, but hope you'll agree that the content is all good... Also posted at History is Made at Night]

Kate Tempest

There's a profile of rapper/performance poet Kate Tempest in the Independent today, the artist formerly known as Excentral Tempest. Funnily enough I played out one of her tracks at the Amersham Arms last week (watch this space for the mix later in the week).

'Kate Tempest opens the door to her south-east London home, dressed casually in grey jogging bottoms, an orange jumper and odd socks.

The 24-year-old is exhausted from touring the country, performing on the spoken-word circuit, and this is her downtime. In a gravelly south London accent (she's Brockley-born and bred), she asks if I mind her smoking. Before I have a chance to answer, she lights up a fag in the front room of the four-floor Victorian house she shares with eight friends, and cracks opens a Polish beer. It's only four in the afternoon but Kate likes drinking Tyskie. It's cheap.

It's not difficult to see why Scroobius Pip (performance poet and one half of dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip) called Tempest "the highlight of my listening year" on his Spoken Word Surgery recently on Radio 1. So impressed by her raw poetic talent was he that he asked her to support him on his nationwide tour. She has already entertained ecstatic festival crowds at Glastonbury, Latitude and the Big Chill, as well as supporting John Cooper Clarke at Leeds Carling Weekend. Not bad considering she started out performing her gritty, rap-rhymes at squat parties. Now audiences across the country have the chance to hear her on a nationwide tour, she has just released her first poetry album with record company Pure Groove, and her band, Sound of Rum, have recently signed a record deal....'

Full article here

Friday, March 26, 2010

Suicide in Nunhead Cemetery (1864)

A sad story from The Times, 20 July 1864:

"An inquiry was held on Monday night by Mr Carter, coroner for Surrey, at the Marlborough Arms, South-street, Peckham, respecting the death of Mr James William Trist, aged 31. Mrs Margaret Smith, 208 Old Kent Road, said that on last Sunday evening she was walking in Nunhead cemetery and she heard the heavy breathing of a person in great pain. On going to the spot she found a young man lying on the turf with his head on the side stone of a grave. He had evidently just fallen...

A pocket handkerchief found on him contained the same name as that of Mrs Trist, upon whose grave he was found dying... Mr Joseph George Neil, 18 Sutherland Street, Newington, said that he was the brother in law of the deceased. The deceased was of no occupation when he died. His last employment was that of a clerk at the Commercial Union Insurance Company... His mother's death which occurred five years ago, had given him great grief, and since then he had acted in a very strange way. About two months ago he lost his employment by taking holydays without leave. He then sold off his furniture and turned his wife and child out of doors...

The witness... read the letter written by the deceased to to his wife, which was to the following effect: 'My dear wife, when you read these lines the individual who writes them will have taken the liberty of taking a view of the future state of society. I go to see my mother. You remain to look after the boy. God will raise up for you what I wanted - friends. God will protect you. See how wrong you were when you said I had not the courage to commit the act I hinted to you. I believe now what Shakespeare says, that there is a method in madness. Farewell to this world. Since our juvenile days, since first love has ripened into manhood's devotion, and the love of my boyhood has become manhood's affection, since our first love was generated when we were boy and girl together I have been yours, but I now constitute myself a judge of the Divorce Court, and I now leave you. With Eugene Aram, I have followed reason and not vice; my faults are from the head and not from the heart. Be sure to bring the boy in strong feeling of religion; that I neglected. At the coffeehouse in Tooley Street will be found the portmanteau, and in that the few things I have contained. In my pocket will be found the key - James W. Trist'. In a kind of postscript following the name was the sentence, 'I am going to Nunhead'.

Dr George Webster said that he was called to the deceased and found him dying on a grave in the cemetery. His countenance was livid, and his hands forcibly contracted. The bottle produced contained the remains of some cyanide of potassium, which was found lying by his side. He had taken a large dose of the poison, and he died from its effects. The jury returned a verdict, 'That deceased died from poison, administered by his own hand in Nunhead cemetery, while of unsound mind'."

Critical Mass

Tonight there will be a Critical Mass cycle ride to mark the recent deaths of cyclists in rush hour traffic in London. The ride will vist two sites close to each other in Southwark where cyclists have been killed by lorries in recent weeks.
David Vilaseca, Catalan writer and queer activist, was killed on the junction of Druid Street and Tower Bridge on February 10th (memorial below). He had just left his home on Tooley Street.

On February 9th, Muhammed Haris Ahmed, a 21-year-old medical student at King's College London, was killed a few hundred metres away on the junction of Weston Street and Snowsfields, SE1 (flowers there pictured below). He was on his way to Guys Hospital.

Friday's Critical Mass starts at 6.00pm on the South Bank under Waterloo Bridge, by the National Film Theatre.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Peckham Experiment

A lot has been written about the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham, seen by many as a precursor of the National Health Service. Some have argued that it was in fact more radical than the NHS, including the anarchist Colin Ward who sadly died last month. He reviewed the main book about the Centre (Being Me and Also Us: Lessons from the Peckham Experiment by Allison Stallibrass) in New Statesman and Society, September 29th 1989, and indeed recalled his own visit there for a meeting of the London Anarchist Group. For him the Peckham Experiment was an exercise in mutual aid and self-help preferable to the top-down bureaucratic model of the NHS. The building still stand in St Marys Road, but has been converted to flats. Here's his review:

Kenneth Clarke expostulated to a radio interviewer the other day: ‘We’ve never run the health service as some kind of workers’ cooperative.’ More’s the pity, I would say. But the real tragedy is that we have never run a health service, only an illness service. By stressing the word health, I don’t mean preventive medicine. I mean the pursuit of the conditions for personal, family and social well-being. There was one unforgettable experiment in this direction, and it died with the foundation of the NHS. This was the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham.

For people like me, curious about the preconditions for resourcefulness and independence, it was a verification of our deepest convictions. The founders were a husband-and-wife pair of doctors, Innes Pearse and George Scoot Williamson. In 1938, they wrote about their Family Health Club: ‘It seems that ‘a sort of anarchy’ is the first condition in any experiment in human applied biology. This condition is also that to which our members most readily respond…’

It began much earlier, in 1926, when after welfare work in south London they concluded that most urban dwellers were so ‘de-vitalised’ that babies were born deficient in health. To study the characteristics of health they devised the idea of a family club, to be joined on two conditions, first, that the whole family must join; and second, that families must agree to a periodic medical examination.They started in a small house run as a club until 1929. The next step was to raise the money from charitable trusts to move to a purpose-built family club big enough to be self-supporting from subscriptions. By 1935 they had raised the cash and built the Pioneer Health Centre, designed by Sir Owen Williams. It was glass-walled inside and out, as the Peckham biologists needed to observe what members actually did. The centre of the building was a swimming pool, and there was a theatre, a gymnasium and a children’s nursery on the ground floor, with dance halls, a cafeteria, a library and medical rooms.

It ran from 1935 to 1939, and after the war from 1946 to 1950. It ended in 1951 after all efforts to get it adopted by local authorities or the NHS had failed. Since ‘health centres’ had become part of official doctrine after the National Health Service Act of 1946, the directors approached the Ministry of Health to incorporate it into official provision.

They failed for five reasons: first, it was concerned exclusively with the study and cultivation of health, not with the treatment of disease; second, it was based exclusively on the integrated family, not on the individual; third, it was based exclusively on a locality, it had no ‘open door’; fourth, its basis was contributory (2s 6d – 12 and a half pence – per family per week), not free; and fifth, it was based on autonomous administration, and so didn’t conform to the NHS structure.

The centre died but the idea did not. Pioneer Health Centre Ltd still exists and in the past ten years has ensured the republication by the Scottish Academic Press of all the old Peckham reports. The same publishers have just brought out, at £7.95, a new study called Being Me and Also Us: Lessons from the Peckham experiment. The author is Allison Stallibrass, a Peckham veteran and author of that modern classic of child development, The Self-Respecting Child.Her book is fascinating from several points of view. First, she has sought out people who were members as children or young parents and gathered their recollections of what the place meant in their lives. It is an enormously impressive testimony. Second, she shows how ahead of their time the Peckham pioneers were.

They were founder members of the Soil Association and took on a farm to ensure that members could buy nutritious bread, milk and vegetables and to provide holidays in the sun. Fifty years later, old Peckham hands remember that delicious bread. Third, she demonstrates how the preoccupation with the family was not a limiting, but an enlarging, factor. Members gradually accepted all the children as part of the family, while children and adolescents related to all the adults.Finally, she asks and ventures answers to the question: could we replicate the experiences of Peckham today? The original building cost about a fifth of the typical super-cinema of the period, though it was expensive to run. A modern equivalent would be far more useful in any community than the standard local ‘leisure centre’ which caters for a narrow band of the population and has no links with the ideology of self-catering, health-counselling, personal and social autonomy.

I only went there once, in 1949. I listened to Scott Williamson wittily addressing a meeting of the London Anarchist Group, and I visited Innes Pearse when she retired to Argos Hill windmill in Sussex. I never realised until I read this book that they must be considered as the truly creative figures in 20th century social medicine'.

See also: Anarchism and the welfare state: the Peckham Health Centre by David Goodway:

'A different age group had caused mayhem on the opening of the new Centre in 1935, when the building was still uncompleted and much of the equipment intended for the children had still to arrive. Each day after school there was an invasion by crowds of kids, aged from seven to sixteen, who ran along the long open spaces and up and down the staircases, screaming, committing minor vandalism and making thorough nuisances of themselves. All the adults urged strong disciplinary measures - all except Williamson, who insisted that order would eventually be implemented by the children themselves as they responded to stimuli provided for them.

To this end [Lucy H.] Crocker was taken on the staff with the brief to resolve the problem. She was to discover that unsupervised children were excluded from the two places in the building, the swimming-pool and the gym, they found most appealing. Her solution was to develop a 'ticket system' whereby children could gain access to a preferred activity on obtaining a signed chit on each occasion from a member of staff cognisant of their physical abilities. This necessitated the children's continual interaction with an orderly, rational adult society and was found to foster responsibility, apparatus being returned to its designated place without request. 'The child is quick to respond to a mutually sustained order in society', as Pearse and Crocker were to put it. Within eighteen months of the reopening the screaming and running were no more and 'there were at last signs of order', Crocker recalled: 'not the quietness due to external discipline but the hum of active children going about their own business'.

This handling of the rowdy schoolchildren exemplifies the fifth condition on which the 'Peckham Experiment' depended: the maintenance of autonomy, autonomy not just for the adults but for their children also. Williamson and Pearse had no doubt that as biologists studying the human organism they had to deal 'with free agents', for 'any imposed action or activity becomes a study of authority, discipline or instruction...not the study of free agents plus their self-created environment'. In 1938, possibly foolhardily, they spoke warmly of 'a sort of anarchy', believing that 'a very strict "anarchy"...will permit the emergence of order through spontaneous action...' But although Williamson spoke to the London Anarchist Group on several occasions during the 1940s - chaired by John Hewetson, the GP editor of Freedom - he objected vehemently to the paper's coverage in 1951 of the announcement of the winding-up of the Centre (articles for which Colin Ward was primarily responsible), and which pointed to its anarchist, indeed revolutionary, nature. Williamson proclaimed: 'I am not an anarchist, nor do I believe in anarchy - not even the Kropotkin type'.

In truth, Williamson seems like A.S. Neill, the progressive educationalist, to have been an anarchist in both theory and practice, while denying he was one. Frances Donaldson (whose husband Jack was to manage the social floors in the Centre until they were running smoothly) had this to say about his remarkable disposition:
"...his lack of paternalismas far as this is humanly possible, was complete. He was not interested in how people should behave, or in how they might be made to behave, but only in how they did behave in any given circumstance...this made for a kind of democracy in the Centre which I doubt has ever been seen anywhere else...He had a rooted objection to the leader in society, regarding him as someone who pushed around the human material he wished to study in spontaneous action, and who exerted the force of his personality to drive more ordinary people out of the true of their natural behaviour into activities unsuited to them and which they half-consciously disliked. "

So while the 'health overhauls' enabled individuals to learn what they might be suffering from, the doctors did not direct them what to do, allowing them to make informed, autonomous choices. A visitor, who learned from Williamson that a man had 'a most dreadful hernia', asked why then had it not been treated and was told: 'It's his hernia. It's up to him when he wants to get it fixed up'. The condition of autonomy goes far to explain why the people of Peckham regarded the Centre as their own, filling the building with their autonomous activity. Clubs were formed and run by their members for a great range of pastimes, including camping, badminton, boxing, fencing and tap-dancing, while skills would be shared in, for example, dressmaking, woodwork, first aid and choral singing.'

Photos from Pioneer Health Foundation - not sure when they were taken, I am guessing 1940s.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some South London Blogs

Still coming across new (to me) South London blogs, here's a few I discovered last night:

I am not a reliable narrator: observations of life from Caroyln, an American living in London (actually been going for a couple of years). Check out her account of a mad journey on the 343 bus from Peckham, during which a man shouted at her 'I wish I could eat all your afterbirths!'. I like her ambivelent take on it: 'Sometimes I hate taking the bus because of people like this, but sometimes I love it all the more'.

Crosswhatfields? is a hyper-local blog mainly for people living in the Crossfields Estate in Deptford, but touching on some wider local issues.

Subterranean Greenwich and Kent - maps, history, photos of places like the Greenwich sand mine and Gregory's Chalk mine in Plumstead.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Echo Valley 3

New country, roots and swing trio The Echo Valley 3 will be playing at the Telegraph, Dennetts Road, SE14 on Friday 26th March. And it's free.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Border Infection

Border Infection is an event taking place at Goldsmiths in New Cross this week (22 - 24 March) with a series of talks, films, and an art exhibition loosely themed around migration, borders and health. Full details are at John Hutnyk's Trinketization blog, but as part of it there will be a Transpontine talk/walk on Wednesday afternoon (3 pm) exploring some of these themes in the context of the history of New Cross and Deptford.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nunhead & District Museum and Art Gallery

One of the highlights of the Telegraph Hill Festival last year was the 'Nunhead and District Museum & Art Gallery'. For a weekend a house in Gellatly Road was transformed into an imaginary museum setting out a fictional history of the local area. The premise was that the Museum was a collection instigated by one George Alfred Gellatly, and visitors were invited to look at its artefacts laid out in glass cases.

These included such items as: 'Smashed piano parts from the Nunhead Alhambra', apparently relics from an instrument smashed during a Teddy boy riot following the cancellation of a Jerry Lee Lewis gig in 1959; 'The Nunhead Bog Head' apparently a ritually severed head, some 2000 years old, excavated from the pond in Telegraph Hill Park; and fanzines and recordings featuring The Nunhead Cemeteries, an overlooked band from the post-punk period.

Naturally such a quirky institution was facing the perils of modernisation, with the event also featuring plans to house the museum in a new building, complete with counter-demonstrators arguing for 'No Tub in Nunhead'. Need we add that the museum, Alhambra, Bog Head, George Gellatly and The Nunhead Cemeteries were all a product of the imagination of the project's creators.

This year the Museum will be open again, but with a new twist. During construction of the new building, contractors have stumbled across previousy forgotten catacombs underneath. So for two days only there will be a unique opportunity to visit the catacombs and see the treasures found there. Open Sat 20th & Sun 21st March 2010, 2 - 6 pm at 80 Gellatly Road, SE14. More details about the Open Studios/Visual Art events here.
(all photos from March 2009)

Monday, March 15, 2010

South London Squatting History

I love those groups on facebook where people post up old pictures and memories of long gone clubs and scenes - from each person's previously private photos a whole period can be recreated, with its haircuts and clothes. As a sometime wannabe radical historian/archivist this stuff is gold dust, but also make me anxious - as it can all be deleted at the pressing of a button.

A current favourite is 80s London Squatters, as the name suggests including loads of photos of London punks and squatters and their hangouts around that time. There's some good South London stuff on there, like this:

The photo above is of Brixton Lido in Brockwell Park. Considering how busy that place is now in the summer, people may be surprised to know that Lambeth Council closed it down in the early 1990s. For a while it was squatted, I believe from Summer 1993. People lived in the changing rooms and offices around the pool, and they hosted various events including cabaret nights, Brixton Poets Society, cabaret nights, a couple of rave-parties, an end-of-tour party for The Levellers and an Exploding Cinema film night in August '93 that attracted more than 2000 people.

I went there a couple of times in this period, and the pool was empty. But as this photo by Fleur Daniel shows, they did manage to refill the pool at some point. Who knows, perhaps they helped save the pool from being sold off, since the events they held there created a buzz and momentum that others were able to build on when plans were being floated (pardon the pun) to reopen it as a Lido.

Another piece of South London history I found there was this flyer for a 1989 All London Squatters meeting at 362 Old Kent Road. This was a formerly empty shop squatted and used as a base for SNOW (Squatters Network of Walworth) from 1985 until late 1989 - by which time SNOW had been superseded by SHIP (Southwark Homeless Information Project). The latter moved in 1990 to 612 Old Kent Road, this time as rent paying tenants. This was a period in which huge numbers of homes were left empty across London by councils and other landlords - a vacuum that was filled by (mainly) young people taking over empties and turning them into homes. In Southwark alone there were 1600 squatted properties in early 1988.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sthaniya Sambaad/Spring in the Colony

There's a special screening at Goldsmiths in New Cross next week of Sthaniya Sambaad (‘Spring in the Colony'), a feature film by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas. Described as 'a moving, and funny, story of life in a refugee colony south of the city of Kolkata', the screening will feature a Q & A session with one of the directors.

It takes place at 5pm on Friday 19th March at Goldsmiths Cinema in the Richard Hoggart Building, New Cross, SE14 (that's the grand old building on Lewisham Way). All welcome - Goldsmiths can feel a bit of an intimidating maze when you first go in there, if, like me, you are not student or staff, but just go through the front door and follow the signs and you'll find the room you're looking for eventually.

More details on the film at and also

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory

Space Station Sixty-Five in East Dulwich is hosting an interesting-sounding afternoon of informal discussions and readings to launch the book Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory by Deborah M. Withers. They say:

'Drawing on cutting edge feminist philosophy, critical theory and queer studies, Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory makes theory accessible to new audiences. Through analysis of the music, film, video and dance of Kate Bush, it breaks down boundaries between the academic and popular, showing that theory can be sordid, funny and relevant – despite what most people think...

Don’t miss the chance to discuss the philosophical possibilities of Kate Bush’s music with the author. The event is taking place on Sunday, March 21st from 2-5pm and you are invited to drop-in at anytime, readings and discussions will take place throughout the afternoon. To top this all off, there will be tea, cake and the odd YouTube clip as well'.

Space Station Sixty-Five is 'an artist-run space in south-east london' situated at 65 North Cross Road, London SE22 9ET (tel. 020 8299 5036).

As highlighted at Transpontine before, Kate Bush once lived at 44 Wickham Road in Brockley, and played gigs locally at the start of her career.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tinie Tempah - South East of the Thames

When I described Blak Twang as London's best rapper earlier this week I guess I was thinking of the older UK Hip Hop generation. Obviously there's a whole lot of younger rappers coming through working more at the grime/hip hop interface. Which brings us on to Tinie Tempah, currently number one in the UK singles chart with Pass Out.

Tempah lived in Peckham and then moved to Plumstead, but gives the whole of the southlands a shout out in his early (2005) track South East of the Thames - 'Shout out to Brockley... Catford... Sydenham... New Cross... Peckham... Woolwich... Croydon... Deptford... Norwood.... Thamesmead.... yeah it;s all good' (similar vibe to Southside All Stars 'Southside').

Tinie Tempah is playing at the Coronet at Elephant & Castle this Friday 12th March at Together, and at Rar! underage club at the Albany in Deptford on Friday 19th March.

Also check out his take on the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Puppet Life

Puppets taking over Deptford and New Cross this weekend...

At Utrophia, the Old New Cross Public Hall (136 Tanners Hill, SE8) there's 'A Fate Worse Than Deptford: The Puppet Musical'. The plans is to create, build and sing a musical over the weekend, starting with puppet making at 11.00 am on Saturday morning and finishing with a show at 7:00 pm on Sunday evening (March 14th). More details on facebook.

Meanwhile over at St Catherine's Church (junction of Kitto Road/Pepys Road SE14), this year's Telegraph Hill Festival Communty Show is a production of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, with a mass cast of adults, children and yes, a couple of puppets! Word from rehearsals is there are some really good singers, you can find out yourself at one of the four performances on Saturday and Sunday. Box office details here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Blak Twang: Good work London SE8

Blak Twang has been mentioned in passing on this site a couple of times, but haven't really given full dues to the Deptford wordsmith who is arguably London's best rapper. He's been at it for 15 years or so, from his classic - but never commercially released - debut Dettwork South East in 1995 to his 2008 album Speaking From Xpercience.

Tony Olabode (his real name) was actually born in Manchester, but grew up in Deptford on the Tanners Hill Estate. For a while Roots Manuva - the other contender for best London hip hop artist - shared his flat there. The place gets mentioned on Blak Twang's early track Real Esate:

'Yeah, yeah. Tanner's Hill in your area, ya nah mean?
It's gettin' scarier. The real estate.

Oi! I'm in the house like a squatter, my gate's in New Cross
Home of the original muggers, psychopathic nutters
And plain clothes undercovers, crazy trainspotters
With grass cutters and choppers, eatin' sens' for supper

...I live in SE8 on the run-down estate
With the highest unemployment rate and crime rate'

Several SE London locations also get a mention on his London rudeboy anthem Dettwork South East (1996):

'Dettwork South East, Yeah yeah yeah yeah
Original south London trooper,
Blak Twang, live from the big smoke,
Thameslink, London Connections,
Watch the ride or watch the bus.

Its like this and this and that,
All across the map,
I chit-chat with a UK-Blak twang when I rap,
laying down facts like British rail tracks,
Cockney rhyming slang, and black conundrums dem pun the dungeon.
This is how we function in London,
From New Cross to Piccadilly Circus

From tower blocks across the circuit,
No surplus no deficit,
No more no less,
If it's Southeast or Northwest or Shredded Wheat or East,
From Old Kent Road to Ladbroke Grove,
I Lay Low,
Handle most of my biz on my cellular dog and bone,
We pass through Elephant and Castle,
Take the back streets to save the hastle,
Delivering a parcel, Over
The bridge and through the tunnel,
Beyond the horizon,
Where the sky scrapers meet the sky lining....

Good work London SE8'.

In an interview a couple of years ago, Twang said: 'South London has been influential in pretty much everything I've talked about: it really has influenced my music. South London, when it comes to black culture, is the mecca. The place even influenced my called myself Blak Twang - it was based on South London because we had a certain way of speaking and we used a lot of slang' (South London Press, 26 September 2008).

He's still going strong, living in Croydon I believe, and apparently planning to finally officially release the lost Dettwork South East, vanished amidst record company politics in the mid-1990s.

Here's his track Fearless, a defiant response in the aftermath of the murder of Stephen Lawrence: 'you can bring your baseball bats, bricks, bottles and Union Jacks, it's all crap like "Immigrants out, No Irish, No blacks"'.

Can anybody listen to this and say there's no such things as decent UK Hip Hop?

Friday, March 05, 2010

New Cross Sun, Snow & Slavery

Wish I'd had a better camera than my phone with me tonight to capture the glorious sunset in New Cross, looking west down Queens Road. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang 'the sun may rise in the East but at least it settles in a fine location', I'm not sure they had in mind a great golden ball sinking over Peckham.

While we're on the subject of scenic South East London, here's a few photos taken in Telegraph Hill Park during the January snowfall. The pond was iced up except for a perfect circular hole in the middle...

... leaving an abandoned Christmas tree stranded on the ice

Meanwhile Olaudah Equiano had acquired a white wig. This monument to the anti-slavery campaigner was made by children from the nearby Edmund Waller Primary School in 2008. It didn't find universal favour amongst those wishing to preserve Telegraph Hill in aspic as a museum of Victoriana, but it's a nice bit of folk art and quite right that he should be commemorated locally.

In his famous memoir 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African by Himself' he recalls being forced into slavery at Deptford on a ship bound for the West Indies:

'In pursuance of our orders we sailed from Portsmouth for the Thames, and arrived at Deptford the 10th of December, where we cast anchor just as it was high water. The ship was up about half an hour, when my master ordered the barge to be manned; and all in an instant, without having before given me the least reason to suspect any thing of the matter, he forced me into the barge; saying, I was going to leave him, but he would take care I should not. I was so struck with the unexpectedness of this proceeding, that for some time I did not make a reply, only I made an offer to go for my books and chest of clothes, but he swore I should not move out of his sight; and if I did he would cut my throat, at the same time taking his hanger. I began, however, to collect myself; and, plucking up courage, I told him I was free, and he could not by law serve me so. But this only enraged him the more; and he continued to swear, and said he would soon let me know whether he would or not, and at that instant sprung himself into the barge from the ship, to the astonishment and sorrow of all on board. The tide, rather unluckily for me, had just turned downward, so that we quickly fell down the river along with it, till we came among some outward-bound West Indiamen; for he was resolved to put me on board the first vessel he could get to receive me....

Thus, at the moment I expected all my toils to end, was I plunged, as I supposed, in a new slavery; in comparison of which all my service hitherto had been 'perfect freedom;' and whose horrors, always present to my mind, now rushed on it with tenfold aggravation. I wept very bitterly for some time: and began to think that I must have done something to displease the Lord, that he thus punished me so severely. This filled me with painful reflections on my past conduct; I recollected that on the morning of our arrival at Deptford I had rashly sworn that as soon as we reached London I would spend the day in rambling and sport'.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Telepathic Fish

When the ambient scene emerged in the early 1990s, I was somewhat ambivalent about the notion of whole clubs dedicated to low tempo electronica. It might have been perfect for winding down after a night out, or even for taking a breather from the dancefloor in a chill out room, but perhaps not for someone who habitually spent time in such rooms impatiently tapping feet and demanding 'can we go and dance again now?' The first such club night I went to was at Jacksons Lane Community Centre in Highgate - I think it might even have been called the Ambient Club (anybody else got any recollection of this?). The ex-punk in me bridled at a club with most people sitting down on mattresses round the outside. But you sit down too, relax a little and hey... it's not so bad!

One of the first series of dedicated ambient nights started out in South London courtesy of a collective who styled themselves Telepathic Fish. In his book 'Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds' (1995), David Toop recalls:

'Telepathic Fish grew from... origins as a small squat party to a growing public event with its own fanzine, Mind Food. "It's like being in someone's living room", Hex/Coldcut 'Macpunk' Matt Black said to me in October 1993 as we watched somebody step around the inert bodies, the dogs on strings and the double baby buggies, carrying a tray of drinks and eats. On that occasion, held in Brixton's Cool Tan Arts Centre, Telepathic Fish ran from noon until 10 p.m. on a Sun­day. You could buy Indian tea and cheese rolls (the latter constructed in situ with a Swiss army knife) from a low table set up in one corner of the main room. This looked for all the world like a 1960s' arts lab: bubble lights, computer graphics, Inflatables, sleepers, drone music, squat aesthetics.

My first and foolish action was to sit on a mattress which has been out in the rain for a month. For half an hour, only professional interest keeps me from screaming out of there in a shower of sparks but then I relax. No, it's fine. This is ambient in the 1990s - the 1960s'/70s'/80s' retro future rolled into a package too open, loose and scruffy to be anything other than a manifestation of real commitment and enthusiasm. Tel­epathic Fish was started by a group of art students and computer freaks - Mario Tracey-Ageura, Kevin Foakes and David Vallade - who lived together in a house in Dulwich. Later, Chantal Passemonde moved into the house, shortly af­ter the parties had begun. Kevin was a hip-hop fan, David liked heavy metal and Chantal listened to the ambient end of indie music: Spacemen 3 and 4AD label bands such as This Mortal Coil. There were no shared musical visions; simply an idea that the environment for listening to music could be different...

For the first party, held in the Dulwich house, six hundred people turned up through word of mouth and Mixmaster Mor­ris DJd. Then they planned a May Day teaparty. The fliers were teabags. Mixmaster Morris wanted a German ambient DJ, Dr Atmo, to play at the party, along with Richard "Aphex Twin" James, a recent addition to Morris's wide circle of friends and fellow psychic nomads. "We realised that the whole party was going to be too big for the place we were going to have it," explains Chantal, "which basically was a garden, so we rushed around. Morris knew some people and we found this squat in Brixton, which was run by these completely insane people. Just real squattie types, right over the edge. It was from Sunday tea on May bank holiday and people just turned up in dribs and drabs all through the night. We got Vegetable Vision in to do the lights. We ran around and got mattresses from on the street round Brixton and we had some of my friends do­ing the tea. We made lots of jelly and there was plenty of acid about. That went on for about fourteen, fifteen hours, with people lying around. That was the first proper Telepathic Fish, May 1st, '93".

So, the first party was in a house in East Dulwich (anyone know where?), the second in a squat in Tunstall Road, Brixton, and then there was at least one at Cool Tan, the squatted ex-dole office in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. I went to many parties in that place, but don't think I was at that one.

Mixmaster Morris was living in Camberwell at the time (may still do for all I know), he put out a track with Jonah Sharpe called Camberwell Green. He was also involved in the mid-1980s with running a club called The Gift in New Cross - where was that?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Child Migration: the Peckham connection

Last week Gordon Brown formally apologised on behalf of the British government for the practice of child migration. This was indeed a shameful episode in history by which over a period lasting more than 100 years, tens of thousands children from poor backgrounds were shipped off to British colonies, often without their consent or that of their parents. Behind the charitable rhetoric of agencies like the Salvation Army and Barnardo's there was often a racist undercurrent (shoring up numbers of White British settlers in the colonies), and many of the children faced sexual abuse and exploitation as forced labour. A salutary lesson that the wealthy and powerful cannot be trusted with the welfare of the poor, even when they claim to act for philanthropic motives.

Peckham was a starting point in the journey of some of these unfortunate children. The Penny Illustrated Paper, June 22 1872, mentions the efforts of a Mrs Maria Rye, thanks to whom 'more than 600 hundred orphans or deserted children have been rescued from an irregular vagabond life, fed, clothes, trained, and taken to Canada... Through the liberality of a friend of the charity, who placed £500 at her disposal, Miss Rye has opened a home at Avenue House, High-street, Peckham, where ten children, lately taken from the streets, are now being fed, clothed, and prepared for a better course of life in the New World. Their ages range from eight to thirteen. Such a charity is certainly deserving of support'.

The same paper reported a year later that Miss Rye had received a donation 'in aid of her Emigration Home for Destitute Little Girls at Peckham' (May 17 1873). The 1896 map below shows that its location was South of the High Street and East of Rye Lane, approximately where the supermarket car park is now situated.

Some people may argue that it is anachronistic to criticise the past by modern standards, but in fact the practice was criticised at the time. Specifically in the case of Maria Rye, in 1874 the Local Government Board sent one of its inspectors to investigate conditions for workhouse children emigrating to Canada with a particular focus on the former jail in Niagara where children were sent on to from the Peckham home. He found that 'Many who were sent into service suffered hardship, ill-treatment and deprivation' and as a result of this and other criticisms, the Local Government Board stopped the emigration of children from workhouses the following year. Unfortunately, after a couple of years Maria Rye was able to start up again (source: The home, with its related emigration scheme, seems to have remained open until 1915. At its peak it housed up to 80 girls at a time (source).

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Desperately Seeking Firishta

Work has started on renovating Hatcham Gardens, a small park in New Cross in the 'Kender triangle' area. The plans include new trees, a new public drinking fountain, extra furniture and new play equipment.

Ashley McCormick from the The Building Exploratory has been doing some research as part of this project and is keen to find out more about the story behind this plaque on a wooden bench in the park. It reads reads: 'to Firishta, who tenderly took care of me, Always Loves More'. Firishta is Farsi for Angel, if that's any kind of clue. If anybody knows any more they can contact